With her bright pink hair and pigtails, Platform Coworking member Searah Deysach is definitely hard to miss when she comes to work at her private office in Ravenswood. The Chicago native is the founder and owner of Early to Bed, a feminist sex shop just a stone’s throw away in Andersonville. Searah is exactly the kind of woman you want on the front lines of today’s modern feminist movement– savvy, driven, and refreshingly personable. Read more about Searah and how she uses her work to empower others.
How would you describe your job title?
“Legally I’m the president…but I guess I’d call myself the owner of a feminist sex shop and hand model. Unless the person I’m talking to is really old, in which case I just say I own an ‘adult store.’”
What sparked an interest in your current industry and to open up your own shop?
“The business grew out of being a frustrated consumer. There was no place in the late 90’s in Chicago that was a comfortable place for women to shop for sex toys. The places that did exist were very ‘old school’ and sticky, and you didn’t leave those places feeling like you were taken care of. You would just walk out feeling so sleazy.”
“One of the most profound assignments that I had to do in college was in a conceptual art class, and we had to go out into the world, identify a need, and then fill that need. I thought to myself, ‘Okay. There’s this need, I hate what I’m currently doing, I don’t know how to do this but I really want to try.’ I liked talking about sex, I liked sex toys, and I was pretty sure I knew how to run a business because you had to sell things for more than you bought them for. So I went ahead and did everything you really shouldn’t do– I quit my job right away and I maxed out a ton of credit cards. Luckily, I think Chicago was really ready for a store like mine.”
What other ventures do you own and manage?
“I have my one physical store in Andersonville, which has its 15 year anniversary coming up. I also have two additional web stores–FtM Essentials and TransKids. I started selling sex toys because it was just what I wanted to do, but I also had this pretty big portion of clientele that consisted of trans-masculine men who were buying products for their pants. I started FtM Essential which provides what we call ‘gender expression gear,’ and these products are not coded as ‘adult’ and are not sex oriented.”
“In turn, I would find myself on the phone with parents trying to troubleshoot how to get a packer to work for their 10 year old, but the gear I sold was not built to a reasonable scale for a child. We then launched TransKids, which is a site for kids 13 and under. In my line of work I have access to a lot of boutique manufacturers, so I basically just kept harassing people until they started making more kid appropriate products. It worked, and we get as many orders for the gender expression gear that we sell as we do in the store and on the store website. Sure you can buy sex toys on Amazon, but they are just that and serve their own purpose. With these web stores, we’re catering to a need that isn’t about the act of sex, but instead is about expressing who you are.”
How would you describe the industry’s landscape for your shop?
“Since the early 2000’s the landscape has shifted greatly as women have become more comfortable consumers, and as the media has become more comfortable with the topic of sex. The whole industry had moved from dark and dingy stores to having a very shiny and happy atmosphere. Overall, the toys have gotten safer, the products have gotten better, and there is way more information out there for everyone to be educated about sex.”
“I think the way I run my store is unique–just in how I treat my employees and run the store with feminist and social justice ideologies. We definitely aren’t really one-of-a-kind anymore, but I’m happy that there are more stores like mine even if there’s competition on some level.”
What would you say has been your biggest obstacle while running your business?
“Not knowing what I’m doing! Personally my biggest obstacle is a crazy fear of anyone saying ‘no’ to me or not liking me. In the beginning, plenty of people talked down to me and my staff. I work in an industry that was built on male pleasure and women being subjected to a man’s desires, but that’s fine because I like being angry about feminism and it feeds me every day to be angry about something!”
You get all kinds of customers, but many can be first-timers to a shop like yours. How do you like to introduce customers to the space in a way which alleviates their fears and makes the experience less daunting?
“My store is very friendly, and intentionally so. It has art on the walls, a rainbow rug, sparkly floors and bright lighting. As a destination business, plenty of people that come in have never been to a sex store. They usually hear about us because they were referred to us by a friend as a safe place, or others get sent to us by a medical professional to get a device or product. We definitely get new customers who walk in with a look on their faces and they are completely nervous, and that’s okay! Even I get nervous in a sex shop, especially since you never know what you’re going to see when you visit one!”
“We greet people when they walk in, but we definitely do not hover. We like to let people explore the store and feel comfortable. I think about myself as a customer all the time and it’s amazing what I’ve learned. One of the things that has kind of sustained me for years was getting to talk to women who have never had a place to ask a question about their bodies before, or have gotten some stupid information from a boyfriend, teacher, or doctor. All of a sudden I’ll be talking to someone who has an intimate relationship with a partner, or they’re divorced and haven’t had sex in 15 years. You come across women who are reinventing their sex lives, have had trauma or have just been told that because certain things haven’t worked for them that they’re dysfunctional or that it’s their fault, and that’s just crazy. I opened this door because women were completely underserved when it came to their own sexuality.”
What you do in-shop vs what you do at Platform?
“I go to my store every morning and make sure everything is not burned down, for starters. I like to see what products have come in and check out what needs restocking. I use that time to also hang out with my staff and get the latest gossip. Sometimes I’m there long enough to help a customer, but with everything else going on I don’t get to do that nearly as often anymore.”
“At Platform, I spend the bulk of my time answering emails related to back-end things, the websites, and social media. I’ve created most of the content for the websites, and some others have contributed as well. It’s important to me that people know that they are dealing with real people who are also interested in the products we sell. I also spend some time trying to figure out if some products are worth carrying and considering options.”
“We definitely don’t sell anything that we would consider a bad product. I run a blog on the side called Searah’s Museum of Screwy Sex Toys where i make fun of sex toys that are just terrible in my opinion, and I keep the ridiculous ones on display in my office. It’s mostly just a way to blow off steam and have fun.”
“I like coming to work at Platform because it caters exactly to my needs– the space is in a great neighborhood, and is only a four minute drive to my shop. It’s nice and quiet and I don’t experience any of the annoying sounds I’ve had to deal with in other workplaces…we’ve all been there. I get to have much needed time to myself and take care of what needs to get done. Plus, Margie’s Candies is right down the street. It doesn’t matter if you’re having a good or a bad day, you should always just go get yourself an ice cream cone.”